tempeh two ways

Besides the “stuffed” part, these two recipes have little to do with our Canadian Thanksgiving up in Ottawa this past weekend. Fermented soy beans don’t have much in common with turkey and pumpkin pie, but somehow, last week’s discovery of tempeh reminded me of all I have to be thankful for.

The weekend was a cornucopia of food delights. Friday we scarfed injera and doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant with an old friend of mine. After a delicious brunch at my aunt and uncle’s, Mark and I indulged all afternoon in delicious home-roasted coffee and mile-high ginger cookies — this time, the old friends were his.

All that food fueled a good cause— the true highlight of the weekend. On Sunday morning I hit a personal best half marathon time at the Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon. With the hubby’s support and 8 weeks of hard training, I achieved a time of 1:51:35. Knocking 2 minutes a mile off my last half marathon time made me finally feel like a woman who doesn’t just finish. She races.

It was a great way to begin a day stuffed with turkey, cabbage gratin, and pie (of which there were multiple slices).

And there were other, non-homemade treats. Sunday, at one of Ottawa’s esteemed Bridgehead coffeehouses, we got to try Clover coffee for the first time.  A late lunch at Von’s Bistro in the Glebe chased down the luscious mugs nicely. Both get five Fresh Cracked Pepper stars.

As I got to thinking about what I’m thankful for, a few things came to mind. One, the incredible variety of food available to me here, today. I’m so grateful to be able to sample the abundance of the world so freely, and so relatively cheaply. This brings me to my latest discovery and the topic of this post: tempeh (pronounced temp-ay), my latest experiment with a new plant-based protein source.

Tempeh is an old food. It’s been made for centuries in Indonesia from fermented soy beans, and it’s more nutty and chewy than even the firmest tofu.

I tracked some down at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, and quickly discovered that tempeh can be used just about anywhere: stir-fries, burritos, pastas, and sandwiches are all worthy vessels. It’s low in fat and high in protein, and best of all, it’s fermented. (Yes, I have a thing for fermented things. Case in point.)

I searched for a few tempeh recipes online, and taking a pinch of inspiration from this one, concocted fajitas that showcased tempeh’s satisfying chew (pictured above). The next day I mixed up the leftover filling and stuffed it into poblano pepper halves, one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers.

One dinner is often a door opening into another. Along the way, two fabulous new ingredients boldly introduced themselves: tempeh, and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. As I face the lows that a cold and rainy, post-race week will bring, I look forward to new experiments in the cozy refuge of my kitchen.

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comfort food

Comfort food is hard to define—that is, until you really need it. Last night was one of those nights. For most, comfort food conjures up visions of fat, sugar, cream, or chocolate—the classic no-no’s of health. But to my delight, I have found that in the world of food, comfort goes by many other names.

Comfort food in the winter is easy: just turn up the heat and heartiness and you’re set. And chocolate is a no-brainer, rarely failing to deliver a brief flirtation with other worlds.

But what about in the heat of the summer, when the wind has whipped the sweat off your skin for an hour and forty-five minute’s bike ride, competing with the sun to brand you its own—what then is comfort food? When you’ve run around all afternoon under the (blessed) heat of the June sun, carting things in and out of your car which you repeatedly curse for being black—what then will bring you relief? When you get told that a U.S. border guard made a mistake with your documents, rendering your recent 3-hour trip North just to re-enter the country to change your visa 99% pointless? When everything just seems to pile up on one lone innocent Monday—what then is comfort food?

I don’t know what you say, but I say Tostadas. Not one to call the whole thing off and resort to toast for dinner, I pulled some little corn tortillas out of the freezer. Since moving to the US, I’ve discovered (not only the true meaning of comfort food) the true meaning of Mexican food. Down here they go way beyond the sloppy burritos and “I could make those at home” nachos peddled by Winnipeg’s Carlos and Murphy’s imposters. But best of all, down here I learned the art of the tostada: quite possibly the world’s fastest, healthiest, friendliest supper for one.

While my two corn tortillas browned away in the toaster over, I dumped a half a can of black beans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. A squirt of hot sauce, a glug of Dinosaur BBQ sauce, and a little mashing-with-the-spatula later and they were ready. Then it went a little somethin’ like this: toasted tortilla, sprinkle of mozzarella, black bean mixture, chopped tomatoes, torn romaine, a glug of red salsa and one of Wegman’s salsa verde, some green onions and low-fat sour cream–voila! Or shall I say, Ola! I was in the kitchen for probably about 8 minutes. It would’ve taken me longer to find the phone number for Alto Cinco.

Since I couldn’t be bothered with the pictures tonight (#1 way to tell if you’re a compulsive food blogger: eating a meal without a camera nearby = relaxing) I have provided you with some shots of the more accessorized tostadas we made for my folks when they were here in April. For these we fried the tostadas, but tonight I learned that toasted are just as good and of course, healthier. Tostadas are forgiving. Top ‘em with anything that brings you comfort: Grilled shrimp, chicken, cabbage, Cadbury Mini Eggs.

At the end of my exasperating day was a yellow-brick road paved with sweet, crunchy, chewy, leafy food. How simple a remedy; how basic the desire for true pleasure in satiety. Now for the chocolate—thankfully I picked up 3 Lindt Chili bars at Target earlier today—and if a 3 for 5$ decent chocolate sale isn’t evidence that life balances itself out, I don’t know what is. And Mr. Border Patrolman can go stuff himself with Hershey’s.

Spoony Sundays #2

Gooooood evening and welcome to the second edition of Spoony Sundays, where we forsake forks and knives for that most graceful of utensils. This week our tastebuds will be given quite a run around. First we’ll dip our spoons into the smoky-spicy soup pots of the south and then lift bowls overflowing with lip-puckering eastern infusions.

The first black bean soup I made was off the label on a can of (you guessed it) black beans. It was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made— beans, corn, salsa, lime juice and some cumin. In spite of its delicate simplicity though, I eventually had to face the hard fact that my “I just moved out on my own” bean soup was lacking a little something something.

The kind of soup I was after is hearty and rugged, dark and a little bit dangerous. The kind I picture cowboys and frontiersmen rigging up over campfires and eating out of dented tin pots. I couldn’t find any recipes in the latest issue of American Cowboy, so I turned in the opposite direction: Food and Wine. (Like I always say, when the guys in boots let you down try the ones in kitchen clogs.)

F&W’s Mexican Black Bean Soup got an 8 out of 10 out of me. I’m beginning to see how you really need hefty meat stocks for true depth of flavour, but I just didn’t have a ham hock laying around for that kind of recipe. The blob of green on garnishing the soup is my improvised a cilantro-cream.

My second guest tonight is Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook. By the way, if you have trouble coming up with menu plans for parties and special occasions, this is a great book. I can’t wait to try their chocolate-filled calimyrna figs (when such a specific craving next overtakes me).

But before I proceed with extolling the joys of recreating a slightly foreign favourite, I just have to introduce you to the woodear mushroom, or auricularia auricula-judae for short. There he is, making his debut appearance on my blog and in my life. Good to have you, auricula. You were a delight to work with, so slippery in my hands and on my little Asian spoon.

My first attempt at Hot and Sour soup — something I’ve only had the pleasure of enjoying at a Chinese restaurant — was gratifying even if for that reason alone. I also don’t own a mandoline, so julienned carrots came about via a slightly longer, zen-like process (old-fashioned chopping). I still ended up with some pretty nice looking carrot matchsticks — an evocative technical term if I ever heard one. The woodears and bamboo shoots came from our local Asian market.

Both of these soups are thick, simple to prepare, and use affordable ingredients. Both can be made vegetarian or even vegan, and both respond well to flashes of creativity and flourishes of genius. As some of you already have, please let me know if you try these out and how they work for you.

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